By Carys Martinez
Recent alumna Edurne Sosa El Fakih '22 believes that there are opportunities all around us in life. She believes that a phone call or even an email can change your life, but you must try to find these opportunities.
A native of Venezuela, Sosa El Fakih was recently awarded a nearly $40,000 scholarship to attend a prestigious postgraduate research program at the University of Cambridge. The scholarship is part of the Girton College Postgraduate Research Awards and will help cover the cost of tuition.
After graduating from FIU summa cum laude, Sosa El Fakih will continue her sociology and anthropology studies at Cambridge this fall.
“When thinking about who I am, my successes, I go back to my roots and beliefs. It goes back to my family. No event made me who I am today. It was the people in my life who made it,” Sosa El Fakih says. Her parents’ advice: “Be happy, be what you want, and do what is right. Be a good person.”
In 2013 when she was 18, Sosa El Fakih immigrated to the United States. She learned English in six months and continued to push forward no matter what obstacles were in the way. Initially, Sosa El Fakih put her education on hold. And then her father died.
“When my dad died, it reminded me of who I am. I told myself, ‘I am going back to school.’”
She paid her way through FIU by working full-time (and being promoted multiple times) at a luxury Marriot hotel on South Beach. FIU allowed her the opportunity to pursue her dreams, and one class changed her life forever — an anthropology class that made Sosa El Fakih want to see the bigger picture.
Anthropology combined her love of hospitality, sustainability and literature. Professor Douglas Kincaid and Ashley Kuntz, FIU’s director of Prestigious Scholar Development, helped Sosa El Fakih apply and win her scholarship at Cambridge.
Sosa El Fakih was in two of Kincaid's sociology classes, and he advocated for her internship at la Universidad Autónoma de Chipas in Mexico.
“She showed tremendous initiative in pursuing educational opportunities, and it does not surprise me at all that she is now in a world-class graduate program at Cambridge. To have accomplished all of this on her own as a recent immigrant to the United States from a challenging background in Venezuela is testimony to her drive and determination. I think a distinguished career awaits her in whatever she chooses to pursue,” Kincaid says.
Sosa El Fakih adds: “It's important to remind professors that every little thing they do can change somebody’s future. It might be something simple like approving a research opportunity, but it causes a butterfly effect.”
The butterfly effect for Sosa El Fakih started when she was invited to go to Italy with Kincaid for research he conducts annually in Italy; she was inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) and the society gave her a scholarship for the trip to Italy, but it was canceled. Sosa El Fakih used the money from the scholarship to shadow a researcher in la Universidad Autónoma de Chipas in Mexico.
"Without that research, I wouldn’t have been able to go to Cambridge. That research put me in the right direction,” she says.
The research at la Universidad Autónoma de Chipas allowed Sosa El Fakih to get credit for the internship and conduct her first fieldwork as well as help launch a Spanish ecotourism initiative called Fondas de Pueblo. This work also prepared her to apply to the Cambridge program.
In addition, during her time at FIU, Sosa El Fakih published a book. Her novel, "Al Borde de un Viaje," is about Gemma's ( the main character's) internal battle, struggling to fight back memories after the passing of a family member. The story is rooted in Sosa El Fakih's and her brother’s experiences.
“The book delves into the process of moving to America, leaving your backbone, but not wanting to remember because remembering hurts. But you still try not to forget,” she adds.
Networking was a big part of Sosa El Fakih’s success. Originally, the alumna applied for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship but didn't get it; she felt overwhelmed because the scholarship is so well known. Another challenge was that most scholarships require U.S. citizenship. Sosa El Fakih contacted Paula Mendoza Moreno, a former Venezuelan Gates Cambridge Scholarship recipient, and told her about her situation. Moreno informed Sosa El Fakih of the Maria Luisa de Sánchez Scholarship, a scholarship for Venezuelan students, that Sosa El Fakih ultimately received.
“I am available to everyone who wants to ask me anything. I know what it was like to feel overwhelmed,” Sosa El Fakih says.
At the University of Cambridge, she hopes to research tourism with an anthropology lens, diving more into indigenous and sustainable tourism in Mexico.
Her advice for students: “Speak up. Don’t be afraid of asking. There are many opportunities at FIU. Opportunities can change your life's course, but you will never find these opportunities if you do not ask.”